Introduction To The Fourth Volume
Special Issue on the Experiences of Faculty Engaged in the New England Center for Inclusive Teaching (NECIT) During the Spring 2005 Semester
In the spring semester of 2005, seven faculty and staff members at Rhode Island College became the first Center for Inclusive Teaching class at this institution. The group met weekly throughout the semester to explore the meanings, implications and struggles related to "inclusive teaching." The participants were selected from a pool of applicants who had replied to a number of announcements about the opportunity. Each group member was off-loaded one course during the semester.
According to the New England Center for Inclusive Teaching (NECIT),
"The Ford Foundation provided funding for NECIT faculty development seminars to convene at seven New England institutions during the Spring 2005 and Fall 2005 semesters. The seminars linked effective teaching to an understanding of student diversity."
Rhode Island College was one of the seven campuses to be designated as a NECIT site. This special volume of Issues in Teaching and Learning, the College's e-journal, contains six essays that emerged from participating faculty members' experiences.
The RIC NECIT group read several published accounts of professors' struggles and rewards associated with inclusive teaching and then analyzed the issues raised. Simultaneously, the group members made connections to their own experiences with inclusive teaching, in part with an eye on developing a product of their work together, to share with colleagues and the wider college community.
The deliberations produced some common themes: Ph.D. programs generally do not teach doctoral candidates how to teach, or even much about pedagogical theory; RIC's faculty development programs have been helpful in promoting inclusive teaching, but participation is not widespread; and for many faculty members, the road to inclusive teaching has been mostly an individual process of discovery.
As the seminar members explored their experiences, they decided to share "pedagogical autobiographies" with the RIC community. Each participant agreed to show how her or his life path connected to successes and challenges as an inclusive instructor, with an attempt to propose some theoretical explanations of the process and student outcomes.
As the group members shared their early drafts, some common experiences emerged: everyone was a minority group member of some sort; religion (for some, not their own religion) played a substantial role in their early development and their later conceptualization of inclusive teaching; most came from working class backgrounds and had international origins or experiences. The biographies also tell very different stories and, collectively, do not coalesce around a single theory of inclusive teaching. But all of the authors in this special volume of IT&L make it clear that there is no end point: each person viewed her/himself as a work in progress, especially since student populations keep changing, as do each academic field and the global pedagogical knowledge base.
The articles in this special volume of IT&L demonstrate quite clearly that the group members came away from the NECIT experience with greater clarity and commitment to the goal of making their classes places where all students can and do participate, in large part because their voices are heard in a safe and supportive environment.